YouTube Assignment: Girl Scout/Boy Scout Online Fieldwork
The Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts are a good subject to study on YouTube if for no other reason than the fact that both groups have posted many videos. For this online fieldwork project, I am asking each of you to watch, catalog, and compare four videos (two videos from Boy Scouts and two videos from Girls Scouts) in which the Scouts are participating in similar activities. The major activities are as follows:
You might also search for videos concerning activities like youth protection, fundraising, or explanations of the Scouts. Regardless of which category you choose, you will need to complete the following tasks:
(1) Find and report the url for 4 videos (2 Boy Scout videos & 2 Girl Scouts videos, NOTE: These videos can come from any country/language) dealing with a similar activity such as camping, singing, skits, etc.
(2) Provide a ½ page – 2 page description of each video. Your description should list the category of activities into which your videos fit. The descriptions must also include the following:
- Describe the actors and actions in each the video – Describe the production qualities of each video (any credits, titles, editing, graphics, etc.)
Describe the amount and quality/content of the comments posted for each video
(3) Provide a 1-2 page comparison of the Boy Scout Videos with the Girls Scout videos with following:
What are the major differences/similarities?
How do these differences/similarities align with our course readings for this semester (especially the Mechling Boy Scout and Tedesco Girl Scout readings)?
Based upon the videos, what are the major differences between the two groups? Or, are there major differences?
So, final catalogs and comparisons should be between 5 pages, including description and comparison of no less than four videos. These papers MUST be written in 12pt, Times New Roman font with 1” margins. Double Spaced.
American Folklore Society is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Journal of American Folklore. http://www.jstor.org The Magic of the Boy Scout Campfire Author(s): Jay Mechling Source: The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 93, No. 367 (Jan. – Mar., 1980), pp. 35-56 Published by: American Folklore Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/540212 Accessed: 12-04-2015 19:29 UTC REFERENCES Linked references are available on JSTOR for this article: http://www.jstor.org/stable/540212?seq=1&cid=pdf-reference#references_tab_contents You may need to log in to JSTOR to access the linked references. Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact email@example.com. This content downloaded from 220.127.116.11 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions JAY MECHLING The Magic of the Boy Scout Campfire* IT IS A COMMON COMPLAINT among anthropologists and historians that the rituals and other cultural genres of moderns, especially the bourgeoisie, are humanly impoverished relative to those of pastoral or of traditional urban groups. Turner speaks of “the dismemberment of ritual” in contemporary American society and Bettelheim is troubled by the fact that fewer and fewer American parents are reading fairy tales to their children.’ Forced to make their own rituals and their own tales in the vacuum left by modern adults, goes this cant, modern children invent pale substitutes incapable of carrying the heavy symbolic burden that rituals and tales must carry as the externalizations of internal anxieties, conflicts, and confusions. This complaint is wrong on two counts. It is wrong, first, in principle because it grossly underestimates the resilience and inventiveness of human beings, especially young humans, under circumstances of severely attenuated official cultural forms. And it is wrong, secondly, in fact. That is, the prejudice of this view simply overlooks the richly symbolic folk materials of even those exemplars of modern bourgeois culture-the white, middle-class child. This essay is about one such folk form, the Boy Scout campfire. The Boy Scout campfire lends itself nicely to the contextual approach to folklore. The campfire is not a single genre but a complex folk event composed of several familiar genres-song, jokes, drama, legend. The campfire is, following Ben-Amos’ now-famous formulation, a multifocal communicative * This paper began as a shorter version for the April, 1978, meeting of the California Folklore Society in San Jose. I extend my sincere thanks to the men and boys of the troop I have been studying. A University of California, Davis, Faculty Research Grant supported my work. 1 Victor Turner, “Process and Symbol: A New Anthropological Synthesis,” Daedalus, 106 (1977), 72-73, and Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (New York: Vintage, 1976). This content downloaded from 18.104.22.168 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions JAY MECHLING event.2 Each genre within the event has its own syntactic and semantic structure that must be analyzed by text, texture, and context. The campfire event itself, however, also has syntactic and semantic structure that makes it what Bateson might call a metacommunicative event, a message about the messages within the long event.3 My goal is an understanding of the metacommunicative nature of the Boy Scout campfire. In the following pages I describe the Boy Scout troop as a folk group, and from a sample of the campfires of the California Central Valley troop I studied I unravel the syntax of a typical campfire program. During that discussion of the structure of a campfire event I comment upon the function and meaning of particular texts within the event. Finally, stepping up one level from the text to the whole event, I offer a semiotic interpretation of the Boy Scout campfire as one of those “webs of signification” (Geertz’s phrase) we find when humans gather for the purpose of creative, collective meaning making.4 The Group The hometown of the Boy Scout troop I studied is a California Central Valley city of nearly one hundred thousand people. The boys in the troop are all white and predominantly middle-class. The Scouts are aged eleven through fourteen and are organized into four patrols (Bear, Eagle, Snake, and Tiger) of six to eight boys each. The patrol is the boy’s primary group within the troop. The patrol has its own patrol leader and assistant patrol leader, and the boys sleep and eat in separate patrol sites at the troop’s summer encampment. When a boy becomes fourteen he becomes a Senior, the Seniors constituting a fifth patrol within the troop. The Senior Patrol Leader is also the titular boy leader of the troop; he conducts the troop meetings, performs chief ceremonial duties, and holds the highest office at camp. Upon graduation from high school, the young man can become a member of the troop’s adult Scouter 2 Dan Ben-Amos, “Toward a Definition of Folklore in Context,” in Toward New Perspectives in Folklore, ed. Americo Paredes and Richard Bauman, American Folklore Society Bibliographic and Special Series, No. 23 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1972), pp. 3-15. See also the lively exchange of views between Ben-Amos and Steven Jones on the text/context controversy, in Western Folklore, 38 (1979), 42-55. Gregory Bateson, “A Theory of Play and Fantasy,” in Steps to an Ecology of Mind (New York: Ballantine Books, 1972), pp. 177-193. That syntax is fundamental to the definition of folklore genre is the contribution of Alan Dundes’, “Texture, Text, and Context,” Southern Folklore Quarterly, 28 (1964), 251-265. 4 Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), p. 5. 36 This content downloaded from 22.214.171.124 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions MAGIC OF THE BOY SCOUT CAMPFIRE staff. Thus, there are three classes of males in the troop-the early adolescent Scouts, the late adolescent Seniors, and the adults. The scene where I collected my data on the campfire was the annual summer encampment of this troop at a lake high in the Sierra Nevada. I conducted my fieldwork in the summers of 1974, 1976, and 1979, and at a weekend camp in May of 1977. During these periods I observed and noted nearly a dozen campfires, taping and transcribing four. I also conducted a two-hour interview in 1977 with two college-aged alumni of the troop. These two informants had been campfire directors several times while they were Senior members of the troop, and they provided valuable testimony about the practical knowledge the campfire director needs as “stage manager” of a successful campfire. There is one more point to be made about this troop before analyzing the campfire event. I adopt here the position taken by Ben-Amos, Fine, and others that for “the folkloric act to happen, two social conditions are necessary: both the performers and the audience have to be in the same situation and be part of the same reference group.”5 On these counts the Boy Scout troop, and certainly a three-week summer encampment, qualifies as a folk group. The Structure of a Campfire Event The typical campfire event consists of six distinct elements: the opening, songs, skits, yells, a tale, and a closing. To know how to lead a campfire is to know how to combine these elements into a unique program for every campfire. There are sometimes special-occasion Boy Scout campfires, such as a Court of Honor or an Indian pageant, but what I describe here is the usual end-of-camp-day campfire. It is in the everyday campfire that every boy is both performer and member of the audience
, so it is the everyday campfire that is the quintessential collective folk creation by these boys. The campfire is a rather complex folk performance event involving constantly shifting lines between performer and audience, between collective and individual performance, between genuine spontaneity and carefully rehearsed drama.6 What follows is a detailed description of the six elements of the campfire toward an interpretation of the meaning of the event. 5 Ben-Amos, “Toward a Definition,” p. 12. See also Gary Alan Fine, “Folklore Traditions of Small Groups: The Case of the Family of Infinite Soul,” unpublished paper, 1979 (Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota). 6 Thomas A. Green cautions folklorists against overextending their use of the term, “folk drama.” Only the skits at a Boy Scout campfire should be called folk drama, though certain other folkloric acts at a campfire approach Green’s definition. See his “Toward a Definition of Folk Drama,” Journal of American Folklore, 91 (1978), 843-850. 37 This content downloaded from 126.96.36.199 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions JAY MECHLING 1. Opening. There must be some act that frames the campfire as a folkloric event apart from routine social interaction, and in most cases this act is the lighting of the fire. Lighting the fire is the metacommunicative act that says, “This is a campfire.” Earlier in the day, one of the patrols has fulfilled its duty by gathering wood and “laying” the fire for the evening. So the building of the campfire is never part of the event; the boys and men come to the campfire ring to discover a fire already laid, ready to be lit. Many of the details leading up to the lighting of the fire signal that the campfire is not part of the everyday reality of camp life. For example, campfires are almost always set aside in special places some distance from the main camp. Cooking fires are not campfires, neither in their function nor in the principles of their construction. Whereas each patrol of Scouts might have its own cooking fire or patrol campfire at its campsite, there is only one troop campfire ring and the Scouts take considerable care in the selection of its site. The troop with which I did my fieldwork has two campfire sites, both placed in spectacular settings and used alternately according to such variables as the stage of the moon, the mood of the day, and so on. Sometimes a campfire ring is an elaborate amphitheatre, with log “seats,” a “stage,” even offstage “wings,” but even in its most primitive version a campfire site usually defines a circle or three-quarter circle and a small “stage.” All of these details preface the lighting of the fire, an act that most clearly keys the campfire performance.7 The lighting of the fire can be as casual as someone’s simply lighting the tinder or as elaborate as a sacred ritual. The troop I worked with preferred the casual version, but there are more elaborate possibilities available in the literature and practiced by some other troops. Ernest Thompson Seton, the author and artist-naturalist who founded the Woodcraft Indians in 1902 and was Chief Scout of the Boy Scouts from 1910 to 1915, insisted upon lighting every campfire with the bow and drill, one of the many Indian-ways Seton used to invest the campfire with symbolic meaning. Scout manuals often suggest dramatic techniques for lighting fires, the best being “magical” in that they create the illusion of either spontaneous combustion or combustion by some deity. One way for the twelve-year-old boys to help the gods light the campfire is to use a hidden string to pull a tin can off a lighted candle down in the heart of the log cabin structure, but other tricks available to these boy-priests range from chemical reactions to the technological classic-namely, the use of a battery to ignite steel wool.8 7 See Richard Bauman, “Verbal Art as Performance,” American Anthropologist, 77 (1975), 295. 8 These techniques, as well as instructions on site, ring, program, and so on, are described in Ellsworth Jaeger, Council Fires (New York: Macmillan, 1949) and Allan A. Macfarlan, Camp Fire and Council Ring Programs (New York: Association Press, 1951). 38 This content downloaded from 188.8.131.52 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions MAGIC OF THE BOY SCOUT CAMPFIRE The point here is that the lighting of the campfire is far from a trivial act beginning the event. The fire gets lit in any case, but there are more and less elaborate, more and less ritualistic ways to invest magic in the campfire. Selection of the campfire site with an eye to the grandeur of the scenery and lighting the fire in some ancient or magical way are metamessages meant to frame the campfire event as something near sacred. 2. Songs. Once the campfire is lit, the campfire “program” begins. This troop always begins its campfires with the same lively song: “Fireman Bill” My brother Bill is a fireman bold, ’cause he puts out fires. He went to a fire last night I’m told, ’cause he puts out fires. The fire it lit some dynamite Which blew poor Bill clear out of sight, But where he’s going he’ll be all right, ’cause He puts out fires! This opening song not only sets a brisk pace for the campfire; it is also an inside joke, of sorts, in that everyone present laughs wildly after the last line. Guests and newcomers to the campfire rarely see the joke quickly enough to join the laughter, and everyone else points at the puzzled outsider. The two college-age informants Iinterviewed about the troop’s campfires guessed that the troop had a repertoire of over one hundred songs, but that the active repertoire for putting together any one campfire was probably more like fifty. Recently another troop alumnus compiled a songbook for the troop, and he lists sixty-six songs. Many are traditional folksongs, ranging from spirituals like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” to songs like “Clementine,” “Dem Bones,” ballads, drinking songs, and rounds. Traditional folksongs are relatively fixed texts created outside this group. Far more interesting, toward an interpretation of the meaning of campfire songs in the folk group of these boys, are the songs that more directly offend adult sensibilities. “Grossing-out” is a popular theme in the lore of adolescent boys, perhaps best represented by this troop’s rendition of a well-known camp song: “Gopher Guts” (Tune: “The Old Gray Mare”) Great green gobs of greasy, grimy, gopher guts, Itty bitty birdy feet, mutilated monkey meat, One pint portion of all-purpose porpoise pus And me without a spoon. (But here’s a straw!) 39 This content downloaded from 184.108.40.206 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions JAY MECHLING Then, added on to this song is a litany of lines that have entered the song over the years: “Watch out, McDonald’s,” “Have it your way, have it your way,” and so on. Also in the “gross-out” category is the following, a parody of a traditional song: “My Bonnie” (Tune: “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”) My bonnie lies over the ocean, my bonnie lies over the sea, My bonnie lies over the ocean, oh bring back my bonnie to me. Chorus: Oh, bring back, bring back, oh bring back my bonnie to me, to me, Bring back, bring back, oh bring back my bonnie to me. Verse: Last night as I lay on my pillow, last night as I lay on my bed, I stuck my feet out of my window, next morning my neighbors were dead. Chorus: Bring back, oh bring back my neighbors to me, etc. Verse: My bonnie has tuberculosis, my bonnie has only one lung, My bonnie can cough up raw oysters, and roll them around on her tongue. Chorus: Oh cough up, cough up, cough up raw oysters, cough up, cough up. etc. Verse: My bonnie has tuberculosis, my bonnie has one rotten lung, My bonnie spits blood by the bucket, and dries it and chews it for gum, by gum. Chorus: Oh dries it, dries it, oh dries it and chews it for gum, by gum, etc. Verse: My bonnie leaned over the gas tank, the contents of there which to see, I lighted a match to assist her, oh bring back my bonnie to me. Chorus: Oh bring back, bring back . .. e
tc. Parody and grossing-out are two powerful weapons in the child’s folklore repertoire.9 Both are assaults against adult sensibilities, to be sure, but, as elsewhere in the analysis of folk materials, we must look for meaning not only in the choice of form (parody) but in the choice of content in which the boys flesh out that form. “My Bonnie” is about the human body, a subject that fascinates adolescents (their own bodies are puzzling them at the time) and appears in other teenage folklore. As elsewhere, the fascination is not simply with the body but with the pathologies, disfigurements, and other abnormalities or unpleasant aspects (some feet smell) of human bodies. If we take the body as a metaphor for the social system, then the boys are singing lyrics about the pathologies of both of these symbol systems.10 Bodies and the group 9 See Mary and Herbert Knapp, One Potato, Two Potato… The Secret Education of American Children (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1976), pp. 161-190. 10 On the human body as metaphor for the social order, see Mary Douglas, Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology (New York: Vintage, 1973), and Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, “Sex as Symbol in Victorian Purity: An Ethnohistorical Analysis,” in Turning Points: Historical and Sociological Essays on the Family, ed. John Demos and Sarane Spence Boocock (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), pp. 212-247. On pathologies as symbols, see Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor (New York: Vintage, 1978). 40 This content downloaded from 220.127.116.11 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions MAGIC OF THE BOY SCOUT CAMPFIRE culture are equally problematic to adolescent males, so the humor in these gross-out parodies masks genuine confusion and anxiety. It is as if the boys could learn something about the normality of bodily and social systems by examining their abnormalities. All of these mental processes are condensed in the “gross” lore of these boys. By far the most interesting sort of song sung at campfires by this troop and others is the sort that establishes aformula into which the boys themselves insert their own creative content. Brunvand refers to tales of this type as cumulative tales or “chains” (Types 2000 to 2199), noting that some interesting versions-like the “Yay! Boo!” chains-remain largely uncatalogued.1 The troop has a small number of these songs and would never sing more than one of them at any one campfire. But if the traditional folksong represents the most inflexible genre for the boys’ meaning-making at a campfire, these chainlike songs are the most malleable, hence potentially the most valuable outlet for the boys to express the motives and anxieties they are feeling. I present here three of these songs, giving close readings to the last two. The first example of a chainlike song is “You Can’t Get to Heaven,” a fairly well known song among campers. I heard this troop’s version in 1976. The nature of the song precludes a printed version (it is listed in the troop songbook by title only), so the following is one typical verse for analysis. “You Can’t Get to Heaven” Scout: Oh, you can’t get to heaven … All: Oh, you can’t get to heaven … Scout: . . . in [person]’s car, All: … in [person]’s car … Scout: ‘Cause [person]’s car . . . All: ‘Cause [person]’s car . . . Scout: . . . stops at every bar! All: . . . stops at every bar! Chorus: Oh, you can’t get to heaven in [person]’s car, ‘Cause [person]’s car stops at every bar! Ain’t gonna grieve my lord no more! This one verse is enough to see the formula and make some pertinent observations. First, while a single Scout singer is “in charge of” the verse he is inventing, the entire group participates in each verse in a call-and-response pattern and in the chorus. The formula is simple enough for the teenage boy: he 1 Jan Harold Brunvand, The Study of American Folklore: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1978), p. 138; see also Brunvand’s citation, p. 174, of collections of camp songs. 41 This content downloaded from 18.104.22.168 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions JAY MECHLING must build a verse around a single couplet (car/bar). An important rule of the song is that everyone gets a chance to invent a verse. The song has no fixed length and must be ended by some arbitrary rule (time, say, or the fact that everyone has had one turn). Further, repeated singing of a chainlike song such as “You Can’t Get to Heaven” at campfires over the years establishes a number of “traditional” verses-that is, verses that are so clever and appreciated that the boys remember and repeat them from one year to the next. Any single performance of the song combines “traditional” verses with the totally new, the latter being candidates (presumably) for new traditional verses. Thus, the song is a showcase of sorts for the boys’ display of verbal cleverness. The most important feature of “You Can’t Get to Heaven” is the part of the formula that permits the boy to insert the name of a member of the group. The combination of a person’s name and the couplet makes a verse an opportunity for either an insult or some neutral statement (rarely a compliment). The insults are good-natured and in fun, but they are “cuts” nonetheless, and a common pattern is for the target of one verse to come back a verse or two later with a verse aimed at the original perpetrator. As in other forms of ritual verbal insult, the quicker and cleverer the retort the better. Here, then, we have an example of formula insults among white, middle-class male adolescent Boy Scouts.12 The verse quoted above deals with alcohol and alcoholism, a matter of great importance to these boys.13 The formula lends itself to other themes central to the boys’ anxieties and motives. For examples of these, consider a second chainlike song, this one recorded at a campfire in August of 1976. The song is a combination of a sung chorus and spoken verses of the “Yay! Boo!” type: “Nickel on the Drum” Chorus: Oh hallelu, hallelu, throw a nickel on the drum, just to save a dirty bum, Oh hallelu, hallelu, throw a nickel on the drum and be saved. Testimony time! [spoken] Scout: In our town, all the girls wear grass skirts. All: Boo! Scout: The boys all have lawn mowers! 12 See Millicent R. Ayoub and Stephen A. Barnett, “Ritualized Verbal Insult in White High School Culture,” Journal of American Folklore, 78 (1965), 337-344. 13 See Jay Mechling, “Male Gender Display at a Boy Scout Camp,” in Children and their Organizations, ed. Andrew J. Gordon and R. Timothy Sieber (Boston: G. K. Hall, forthcoming). 42 This content downloaded from 22.214.171.124 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions MAGIC OF THE BOY SCOUT CAMPFIRE All: Yay! Chorus: Oh hallelu … etc. Scout: In our town, the girls wear wooden dresses. All: Boo! Scout: The boys all have wood-peckers! All: Yay! Chorus: Oh hallelu . . . etc. Scout: In our town, there’s a cop on every corner. All: Boo! Scout: Hanging from the lamppost! All: Yay! Chorus: Oh hallelu . . . etc. Just these three verses (from among dozens I heard) demonstrate two of the themes the boys introduce into their songs if given the chance-sexuality and resistance to adult authority. These two topics are highly chaiged for adolescent boys, and in these respects the “Yay! Boo!” cycle is consistent with other genres of teenage folklore. The third example of a chainlike song is in many ways the most remarkable. I collected this version of the troop’s song, “Commissary Store,” at a campfire on July 18, 1979. It is a campfire I tape-recorded in its entirety, and the instructions that prefaced the song are in some ways as interesting as the song itself, for troop tradition recognizes this song as the occasion for ritual insult between Scouts and Seniors. The Scoutmaster, who was raised in Berkeley and was a Scout there, brought this song to the troop. Its origin, according to my two college-age informants, is as a Berkeley drinking song, “The Farm,” about Stanford. The drinking song’s chorus-“My teeth are dull,
I cannot chew, it comes from drinking cans of brew”-alternates with invented verses, such as “Oh, it’s vodka, vodka, vodka, that makes you feel so rodka, on the farm, on the farm.” The troop has transformed this song into an appropriate camp song, as we shall see. Before the troop sang “Commissary Store,” the Scoutmaster explained the ground rules to the newcomers. For instance, a “put-down verse” must alternate with a “traditional verse” that contains no reference to people. The Senior patrol designates a “Senior lawyer” who can sing a verse out of turn in order to put-down the Scout who sang a cutting verse at a Senior. A final ground rule is that verses cannot include “anything we can’t sing in front of your Mommy and Daddy.” The ground rules stated, the song began: “Commissary Store” Oh it’s rats, rats, rats, as big as alley cats. 43 1. Scout: This content downloaded from 126.96.36.199 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions JAY MECHLING All: In the store, in the store, Oh, it’s rats, rats, rats, as big as alley cats In the commissary store. Chorus: My teeth are dull, they cannot chew, It comes from opening cans of stew. 2. Scout: Oh, it’s Doane [a Senior], Doane, Doane, who always makes us groan. All: In the store, in the store, etc. Chorus 3. Scout: All: Chorus 4. Scout: All: Chorus 5. Scout: All: Chorus 6. Scout: All: Chorus 7. Senior: A ll: Chorus 8. Scout: A l: Chorus 9. Scout: Al : Chorus 10. Senior: All: Chorus 11. Scout: All: Chorus 12. Scout: All: Chorus 13. Senior: All: Chorus 14. Scout: All: Chorus 15. Scout: All: Oh, it’s P, B, and J, that spreads like modeling clay. In the store, in the store, etc. Oh it’s Doane’s red hair, that stands out like a flare. In the store, in the store, etc. Oh, it’s pans and pots, that give us all the trots. In the store, in the store, etc. Oh, it’s my big brother [Doane], who’s a scum like no other. In the store, in the store, etc. Oh, it’s that ugly little Doane, that makes us want to groan. In the store, in the store, etc. Oh, it’s P, B, and J, that makes my butt decay. In the store, in the store, etc. Oh, it’s Larry, Larry, Larry, whose teeth are so damn hairy. In the store, in the store, etc. Oh it’s Carter, Carter, Carter, who wears his cute pink garter. In the store, in the store, etc. Oh, it’s tape and twine, enough to blow your mind. In the store, in the store, etc. Oh, it’s Doane, Doane, Doane, who moans on the fence. In the store, in the store, etc. Oh, it’s Scott, Scott, Scott, whose breath is like the pot. In the store, in the store, etc. Oh, it’s lice, lice, lice, running through the rice. In the store, in the store, etc. Oh, it’s Dan and Lare [Larry, both seniors], that make a gay pair. In the store, in the store, etc. 44 This content downloaded from 188.8.131.52 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions MAGIC OF THE BOY SCOUT CAMPFIRE Chorus [The Scoutmaster calls for the last verse] 16. All: Oh that’s all there is, there ain’t no more, In the store, in the store. That’s all there is, there ain’t no more, In the commissary store. Again the key to the Scout’s mastering the formula of this song is his ability to invent a relatively short couplet. But whereas the rhyme in “You Can’t Get to Heaven” depends upon means of locomotion (car, boat, etc.), “Commissary Store” permits the rhyme to hinge upon the name of a person in the group. Name play and word play mix here, especially in the “put-down verses.” 14 As Dundes reminds us, the folk speech figure “put-down” graphically describes the essence of male insult-placing the other in the passive, female role in homosexual rape.15 In fact, when the sexual references enter this song they are explicitly homosexual-the “hairy teeth,” the “cute pink garter,” and the “gay pair” lines. This is in contrast with the “Yay! Boo!” version of “Nickel on the Drum,” where the sexual references were heterosexual. The “Yay! Boo!” song is a sort of collective fantasy about sex with girls; it is not a cut song. But “Commissary Store” has none of this fantasy sex, turning all of the sexual energy and anxiety of the boys into male insult. Just as it is important to the sexual identity of these adolescent Boy Scouts for them to engage in collective heterofantasy, so is it important for them to distance themselves from homosexuality through insult. Other folk genres of these teenage boys-their jokes, their “cut wars,” casual name-calling-are filled with perjorative references to homosexuality. This is not a surprising reaction. A Boy Scout camp experience is an exaggerated male group experience, perhaps the first for these boys. Men and boys live, eat, and sleep together for two or three weeks in a wilderness setting far removed from the everyday reality of school and home. It is a firm rule of the troop that women and girls are not allowed to visit camp. At the same time, the boys are thrown together in activities that alternately require cooperation and competition with other males. Loyalty and trust are highly valued in the official Boy Scout literature and in the real-life demands of this male group. Homosexual, or 14 See Martha Wolfenstein, Children’s Humor: A Psychological Analysis (1954; rpt. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978), pp. 66-77, on word play and name play. 15 See Alan Dundes, “Into the Endzone for a Touchdown: A Psychoanalytic Consideration of American Football,” Western Folklore, 37 (1978), 79-80. See also Alan Dundes, Jerry W. Leach, and Bora Ozk6k, “The Strategy of Turkish Boys’ Verbal Dueling Rhymes,” Journal of American Folklore, 83 (1970), 325-349. 45 This content downloaded from 184.108.40.206 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions JAY MECHLING homoerotic, feelings are central to both competition and cooperation within close male groups. Homosexuality was the paradoxical key to the Greek contest system, argues Gouldner, and certainly the homoeroticism present in a scene like a Boy Scout camp must pose something like the same paradoxical feelings in the boys.16 The boy distances himself from these homoerotic feelings by means of “put-downs” and the projection of these feelings onto another. In short, close comradeship between these boys is possible as long as they share in their symbolic lore a scorn for homosexuality. The tension is never solved, of course, so these themes are pervasive in the lore of the Boy Scout camp. There are three more observations to make about “Commissary Store” before considering the next folk genre at the campfire. First, note that the “Senior lawyer” had quick retorts to the insult verses. Verse 7 is aimed at 6, 10 at 9, 13 at 12. This immediate return “put-down” is a highly regarded ability in the “cut wars” of these boys. Second, aside from the sexual references are two other themes common in the lore at camp-the quality of the food and personal features (red hair, bad breath). Mice and assorted forest critters do get into the food, and the references to mice and rats betray a little bit of nervousness about these pests. Finally, verse 12 is an example of teenage humor wherein the joke is that the Scout violates the rule that the verse must rhyme. It is also a “put-down” linking metaphorically the victim and an alley cat. The three chainlike songs of this troop testify, I think, to the emergent quality of song performances at the Boy Scout campfire. Bauman has alerted folklorists to this quality that, as he says, “resides in the interplay between communicative resources, individual competence, and the goals of the participants, within the context of particular situations.”17 Within any given campfire program the structure is in constant flux. A good campfire director, I am told by my informants, must plan carefully the order of songs, alternating skillfully between the fast and slow, between the traditional folksong and the popular song from mass media, between songs with rigidly fixed forms and open-ended chainlike songs. Moreover, the good campfire director must have a performer’s sense of his audience and be able to alter his planned program according to the mood of the g
roup, perhaps moving quickly to a lively song if the group needs energy, substituting a quiet song if the group needs to settle down. 16 Compare Alvin W. Gouldner, Enter Plato: Classical Greece and the Origins of Social Theory (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1965), pp. 45-54, and Lionel Tiger, Men in Groups (New York: Vintage, 1969). 17 Bauman, “Verbal Art,” 302-306. 46 This content downloaded from 220.127.116.11 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions MAGIC OF THE BOY SCOUT CAMPFIRE The songs themselves are in flux as well, and it is not only the chainlike songs that change from one campfire to the next. Sometimes popular songs from the record industry get into the campfire; sometimes new songs are written by a troop member or someone invents new lyrics for an old tune. Evidence of the emergent quality of song performances is the spontaneous change of a familiar song’s lyrics. The example my informants mention was from the song, “Titanic.” One line in the chorus goes: “Husbands and wives, itty bitty children lost their lives.” But at one campfire sometime in the troop’s past, some boy instantly parodied the song by singing: “Uncles and aunts, itty bitty children wet their pants.” Slowly other Scouts would sing the parody version until, now, this version is the troop’s official last chorus. One of my college-age informants nicely summarized the emergent quality of songs and other folk genre at Boy Scout camp. “We have lots of customs and traditions,” he said, “but the greatest custom and tradition of all is the custom and tradition of new customs and traditions.” 3. Skits. The element of the campfire most like drama is the patrol skit. Each patrol is expected to have a skit ready for the campfire, and there is some sense of competition between the patrols to put on the best skit. The “best” skit, however, might not be the cleverest or best performed, since a skit that brings groans draws as much (or more) attention as one that brings applause. Often the skits are dramatizations ofjokes. The campfire of May, 1977, for example, had one patrol skit acting out the well-known joke about the fastidious bartender and the man with the trained ant. Another skit that evening was a version of a moron joke, and the third was an elaborate skit, containing several scenes, the punch line depending upon a well-constructed pun. The fourth skit flirted with sexuality, as many of the skits and songs tend to do. Two boys are having an argument: Scout A: Mine’s bigger than yours. Scout B: Mine’s a lot longer than yours. Scout A: No, mine’s a lot longer than yours. Scout B: Nah, your sister told my sister that mine’s a lot bigger than yours. Scout A: O.K., then, let’s measure them. [The two Scouts take off their belts and hang them side by side.] Aside from the clever frame shift that is the essence of this joke-I was told, by the way, that this skit has been around the troop for a long time-its theme is, in fact, no joke to these boys. Pubescence is the occasion for the individual to differentiate himself or herself from the other gender. These eleven-to-fourteen-year-old boys feel a great deal of anxiety about their sexual identities, and 47 This content downloaded from 18.104.22.168 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions JAY MECHLING it is in their folklore-their games, their jokes, their songs, their campfire skits, their rituals-that these boys work toward the ego integration that is the goal of this period in the life cycle.18 Anxiety about penis size is a genuine anxiety that finds expression in this often-repeated skit precisely because the content of that anxiety has no other legitimate outlet. 4. Yells. The fourth element found in the campfires of the California Central Valley troop I have been studying are “yells.” As one of my college-age informants told me later, “The yells are fun. That’s one of the things that happens at a campfire is the yells, and that’s a chance to keep our yells sharp . . . which is the way we announce our presence to whoever is there to listen.” “We do it for the echo, too,” added his friend. Here is an example of a yell from the May, 1977, campfire; it is shouted loudly in unison, with everyone standing in the direction of the presumed audience (or source of echo), in this case another group of campers: Go back, go back Go back to the woods. You ain’t, you ain’t, You ain’t no good. You ain’t got spirit And you ain’t got class. You ain’t got the spirit Troop [number] has. 5. Story. The fifth element in a typical Boy Scout campfire is a tale. This is sometimes a story read from a collection of mystery or ghost stories. The more interesting case, however, is the local legend, the purportedly “true story” that is told about some strange creature or unfortunate person said to live in the locale of the camp.19 I know of no systematic collection of these campfire local legends, but they have great theoretical importance as folk expressions of deep-seated anxieties and psychological processes. The two examples of local legends from my Florida Boy Scout camp experiences share these qualities: both involve a man physically disfigured or dismembered (a lumberjack with a bashed-in head in one case, a man with Spanish moss growing all over his body in another) and both insist that this grotesque still inhabits the pine woods surrounding the camp. Part of the symbolic puzzle Turner unfolds in his analysis of initiation ceremonies is the meaning of the “liminal monsters” that appear 18 See Erik Erikson, Identity: Youth and Crisis (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1968), pp. 128-135, and see Brunvand, p. 269, on adolescent skits such as those performed at Boy Scout meetings. 19 See Knapp and Knapp, pp. 244-249, on “scaries,” and Brunvand, pp. 116-119, on local legends. 48 This content downloaded from 22.214.171.124 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions MAGIC OF THE BOY SCOUT CAMPFIRE so frequently in the rituals. Turner’s observation is that liminal monsters are aimed not at terrorizing the neophytes but at startling them “into thinking about objects, persons, relationships, and features of their environment they have hitherto taken for granted.’20 It is possible that campfire ghost stories and local legends are the bourgeois equivalent of liminal monsters. The persistence of these legends at teenage campfiresuggests that they are meeting some psychic needs, reflected (no doubt) in the thematic preoccupation with death and dismemberment (“The Hook” is perhaps the best known example).21 6. Closing and Benediction. There is a great deal of flexibility in campfire programs, but what is never omitted is the ritual closing. The closing sequence at the May, 1977, campfire I recorded is typical. For most of the campfire program everyone except the song leader or performers were seated. In contrast, the closing requires everyone to stand and make a circle around the dying fire. Most importantly, the circle must be a chain of human touching. In the form I recall from my own Scouting past, each person in the circle crossed his arms in front of him and grasped the hands of those on each side. In the instance of this May, 1977, campfire, each boy or man placed his left hand on the right shoulder of the person to his left, leaving his right hand free for the Scout sign and hand gesture that come later in the closing. The closing began with the slow, soft singing of the spiritual, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” setting the more solemn and reverential mood as a break from the raucous songs and skits that were the earlier theater. After a few announcements and comments by the Scoutmaster, the entire group began the closing sequence in unison, first with this song: (Tune: “O, Tannenbaum”) Softly falls the light of day, As our campfire fades away. Silently each Scout should ask, “Have I done my daily task? Have I kept my honor bright? Can I guiltless sleep tonight? Have I done And have I dared Everything to be prepared?” 20 Victor Turner, “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage,” in Proceedings of the American
Ethnological Society, ed. J. Helm (Seattle: American Ethnological Society, 1964), p. 14. 21 For a psychological interpretation of “The Hook” and a few other American legends, see Alan Dundes, “On the Psychology of Legend,” in American Folk Legend: A Symposium, ed. Wayland D. Hand (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), pp. 21-36. 49 This content downloaded from 126.96.36.199 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions JAY MECHLING Then, spoken in unison, making the Scout sign with the right hand: Twelfth point of the Scout Law: A Scout is Reverent. May the great Master of all Scouts Be with us until we meet again. Finally, sung softly, with hand gestures, “Taps”: Day is done, gone the sun, From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky. All is well. Safely rest. God is nigh. The Scoutmaster says, “Good night, Scouts,” and everyone quietly disperses. These, then, are the six elements that make up the typical Boy Scout campfire program: the lighting of the fire, songs, skits, yells, a story, and a closing. Each of these represents a folkloric act, and for any one troop the repertoire of texts of each of these elements might run into the hundreds of examples. There are structures and cultural formulas in each of the texts. The entire program itself is also a text, and we might say that the elements and the program of the campfire have the same relationship as Bouissac finds between the acts and program in a circus.22 In sum, the Boy Scout campfire provides the folklorist with a fascinatingly complex piece of folk drama, an event that invites analysis of the function and meaning of the event as a whole. Function and Meaning of the Boy Scout Campfire In my discussion of the six sorts of text events at a typical Boy Scout campfire I accompanied some of the texts with commentaries about their meanings and functions for the boys. These connections, it turns out, are pretty much what other folklorists find in the lore of American teenagers. Folk texts like songs and skits especially lend themselves to the expression of ideas and anxieties that are less easily spoken of in everyday conversation. The familiar themes of sexuality, hostility to authority, and a preoccupation with the disgusting (bodily excretions, illness, and so on) run through many campfire texts. And sometimes these themes are used in the service of interpersonal aggression, as in “Commissary Store.” But thus far, nothing said about the 22 See Paul Bouissac, Circus and Culture: A Semiotic Approach (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976), p. 13. 50 This content downloaded from 188.8.131.52 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions MAGIC OF THE BOY SCOUT CAMPFIRE meaning and function of these teenage folk texts could not be said also about texts collected in these boys’ schools or sandlot baseball games or gatherings at town hangouts. Is there something special about the campfire as a setting for these texts? Does the campfire frame confer another level of meaning and function upon these performances? We might focus at the outset upon thefire itself and upon the two specific episodes that center upon the fire. The fire is, after all, the defining factor in this form of folk drama, and to imagine a “campfire” program without a fire is to imagine one of the deadliest evenings in a camping experience. The first of the two fire-centered episodes is the building and lighting of the fire, acts performed with careful attention to symbolic meanings. Boy Scouts choose campfire sites with an eye to special relationships with topography-say, a spectacular view or a cathedrallike clearing in dense woods-and the sites are almost always some distance from the campsite, the setting for everyday camp life. Set aside in this manner, the campfire site becomes almost sacred space, used for no other purpose. Ceremony surrounding the lighting of the fire, sometimes magical, completes the frame that the campfire event is going to be densely symbolic. The second fire-centered episode, the reverent closing, takes its power from the text, from the landscape, from the physical link that is the circle, and not least of all from the fire itself. This closing was powerful in my consciousness each time I witnessed it in my fieldwork, and my participation in the circle triggered memories and feelings from dozens of similar campfire closings in my own youth. I take from these closings a sense of them as bonding ceremonies, serving much the same function as does the Arrow Renewal ceremony for the Cheyennes. In that ceremony, described by Hoebel, the Medicine Arrows “symbolize the collective existence of the tribe,” a collective identity that is threatened in part by the necessity of the tribe to disperse into ten bands for most of the year, but which is threatened more dramatically by the occasional threats-failure of food supply, threat of extermination by enemies, homocide within the band or tribe-which make necessary the healing and bonding accomplished by the Arrow Renewal. Of the six functions of the Arrow Renewal listed by Hoebel, the last is most relevanto the bonding function I see in the Boy Scout campfire. The Arrow Renewal, says Hoebel, “functions as the great symbolic integrator of the tribe, ritually demonstrating that the tribe, although its group components are kindred .. . is more than the sum of its parts and that the parts must not act in a way that will sever the whole.” 23 23 E. Adamson Hoebel, The Cheyennes (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960), pp. 10-11. 51 This content downloaded from 184.108.40.206 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions JAY MECHLING What threatens the collective unity of a group of Boy Scouts has much to do with the social-psychological nature of the American male adolescent, to be sure, but I also see a strong analogy with the Cheyennes. The division of the troop into four smaller patrols dominates much of camp life. The patrols sleep, cook, and eat together. They stand together at assemblies and are engaged in competition with one another throughout the three-week summer encampment, the competition ranging from scoring well on campsite inspections, to explicit contests, to the competitive frame for patrol skits during the evening campfire. At times this competition is intense, yet the group must also maintain its identity as a troop. So, like the Cheyennes, the boys need a ceremonial occasion to remind them of their collective identity as members of the same troop and to temper the competitive feelings that are encouraged throughout the day. I was struck, for example, by the contrast between the linked circle of males at one campfire closing and the linked circle of males earlier in the day playing the game, “Poison,” where the object is to push or pull others in the circle into a mud hole until one person emerges victorious. The circle of boys linked arm-in-arm is the same in both cases, but the meaning of the two circles is very different.24 So there are some striking parallels, I think, between the functions-if not the forms-of the Boy Scout campfire and the Cheyenne Arrow Renewal. But there is one more important point I must make. For the choice of arrows as symbol of the Cheyenne tribe-as an “embodiment of the tribal soul”-is an important detail. The question to ask of the Boy Scout example is: what is the symbol of the troop’s unity in the campfire closing ceremony? Symbols abound in this setting: there is the human circle, there are the uniforms the boys and men are wearing, there is the Scout sign made during the spoken benediction. All of these are plausible candidates for the symbol that accomplishes the male bonding of this tribe of boys, and all may contribute to the intensity of the bonding. But I suggest that it is thefire itself that is the most potent symbol in this scene. Bettelheim’s work on male initiation ceremonies provides some key clues to understanding the role of fire in the rituals of male age-mate bonding. Circumcision and initiation rites, says Bettelheim, successfully create age-mate bonds to the extent tha
t they satisfy deep emotional needs. Fire seems to play an important role in many male initiation rites, and Bettelheim uses Freud’s 24 See Jay Mechling, “Sacred and Profane Play in the Boy Scouts of America,” in Play and Culture, ed. Helen B. Schwartzman (New York: Leisure Press, in press), for a complete interpretation of “Poison.” 52 This content downloaded from 220.127.116.11 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions MAGIC OF THE BOY SCOUT CAMPFIRE references to fire in dreams and mythology in order to reinterpret Australian male initiation rites.25 The key document here is Freud’s 1932 paper on “The Acquisition and Control of Fire.” Freud wrote this short essay as an expansion, really, of a provocative footnote in his 1930 Civilization and Its Discontents, wherein Freud first makes the link between urethral eroticism and ambition. I quote from the footnote: It is as though primal man had the habit, when he came in contact with fire, of satisfying an infantile desire connected with it, by putting it out with a stream of his urine. The legends that we possess leave no doubt about the originally phallic view taken of tongues of flames as they shoot upwards. Putting out fire by micturating . . . was therefore a kind of sexual act with a male, an enjoyment of sexual potency in a homosexual competition. The first person to renounce this desire and spare the fire was able to carry it off with him and subdue it to his own use. By damping down the fire of his own sexual excitation, he had tamed the natural force of fire. This great cultural conquest was thus the reward for his renunciation of instinct.26 A year later in the “Acquisition and Control of Fire” essay, Freud offers a detailed analysis of the Prometheus myth in order to confirm his hypothesis that, “in order to gain control over fire, men had to renounce the homosexually-tinged desire to put it out with a stream of urine.”27 Freud’s reading of the Prometheus and other myths of the origin of fire is that fire is a symbol of the libido. The myths reassure man that, in renouncing his libidinal desire to engage in a pleasurable struggle with another phallus (the fire), he has made the right choice, after all. To return to Bettelheim’s use of Freud’s insights on fire and phallic pleasures, Bettelheim finds ethnographic and clinical evidence supporting the connection between urination and fire. In Australian initiation rites, for example, “fire and urination are connected with mutilation of the penis in a healing as well as a damaging way.”28 In fact, at one point Bettelheim turns from ethnographic evidence to comment upon male initiation parallels in modern societies. In modern youth groups and in primitive age societies, “the ex- 25 See Bruno Bettelheim, Symbolic Wounds: Puberty Rites and the Envious Male (Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press, 1954). 26 Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. and ed. James Strachey (1930; rpt. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1961), p. 37. 27 Sigmund Freud, “The Acquisition and Control of Fire,” trans. and ed. James Strachey, The Standard Edition, Vol. 22 (1932; rpt. London: Hogarth Press, 1964), p. 187. 28 Bettelheim, Symbolic Wounds, p. 183. 53 This content downloaded from 18.104.22.168 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions JAY MECHLING perience of sharing satisfaction of instinctual tendencies-pregenital and genital, homosexual and heterosexual-accounts for the close relations between members.”29 Psychoanalytic insight into the sexual significance of fire, therefore, helps explain why the campfire is the symbolic centerpiece of the teenage folk event. Ernest Thompson Seton, one of the founders of the Boy Scouts in 1910, recognized the symbolic power of the campfire without being able to explain it. He based his earlier (1902) Woodcraft Indians upon nine principles, one being “The Magic of the Campfire.” Writing in his manual for young woodcrafters, Seton says that “the rubbing stick fire has always been the sacred fire.”30 Council fires for the Woodcraft Indians always had to be started with the bow and drill. Rubbing is itself a highly sexual experience,31 so creating a fire by rubbing two sticks together completes the sexual friction/heat/fire connection and casts a new meaning upon the old joke about “starting a fire by rubbing two Boy Scouts together.” The troop with which I did my fieldwork did not use the classic bow and drill to start the campfire (we might see in a match and strike the symbolic vestige of the rubbing/heat/fire chain), but the boys did engage in other firecentered behavior that is best explained by a psychoanalytic semiotics.32 In a neglected study of camper behavior, the authors discover among the gratifications of the cookout what they call firefun: “Boys liked to: build, light, and tend the fire; to toss on extra fuel (especially papers-which caused the flames to leap as they were consumed); to smoke twigs . . . to fantasy or act out aggressive and sexual themes which ranged from mock attacks with firebrands to ‘pissing the fire out and making it sizzle.’ “33 The Boy Scouts I studied seemed just as committed to fire fun, including the occasional urinating upon the fire. Recall, too, that this troop always begins its campfire programs with the song, “Fireman Bill,” who will be all right in Hell because, as the song says, “he puts out fires.” 29 Ibid., p. 100. 30 Ernest Thompson Seton, The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1926), p. xxii. 31 See Gaston Bachelard, The Psychoanalysis of Fire, trans. C. M. Ross (1938; rpt. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), pp. 22-23. 32 What I am developing in this interpretation of the meaning of the campfire event is a contribution to the psychoanalytic semiotics announced by Alan Dundes in his “Projection in Folklore: A Plea for Psychoanalytic Semiotics,” MLN, 91 (1976), 1500-1533. 33 Paul Gump, Brian Sutton-Smith, and Fritz Redl, Influence of Camp Activities Upon Camper Behavior (Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 1955), pp. 99-100. 54 This content downloaded from 22.214.171.124 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions MAGIC OF THE BOY SCOUT CAMPFIRE As persuasively as all these pieces may fit together as an explanation of the salience of the fire as a male symbol in the collective ritual of the Boy Scout campfire, there is one reasonable objection to this interpretation. Girl Scouts and Campfire Girls, after all, sit and sing around campfires. How can the fire be so potent a symbol of male bonding if females get as much pleasure out of a campfire? The answer, I think, is that fire is a multivocal symbol that functions differently in the two contexts, male and female. Let us return to that important footnote in Civilization and Its Discontents, picking up Freud’s speculations where they left off (see above): Further, it is as though woman had been appointed guardian of the fire which was held captive on the domestic hearth, because her anatomy made it impossible for her to yield to the temptation of this desire [that is, the desire to put out the fire with a stream of urine.]34 Putting aside for present purposes Freud’s faulty analysis of female anatomy and the feminist critique of Freud35 Itake Freud at his “as if” word and make this distinction between the meaning of the fire in male and female bonding rituals: whereas the fire in the male ritual symbolizes the libido and the libidinal renunciation that makes civilization possible, the fire in female rituals represents the communal love summarized in Freud’s phrase, “domestic hearth.” There is, in fact, some empirical confirmation of this expectation that female rituals around a campfire will be less aggressive and more communal. Two of my students have written essays on Girl Scout campfires, and in neither case did the student discover the aggressive, sexual content that appears invariably in my sample of Boy Scout campfires. Both students concluded independently that the dominant themes in Girl Scout campfire songs center in some way upon t
he conflict between individualism and community, themes such as “partner love,” “camaraderie,” and “sisterhood.”36 The fire apparently serves the same crucial bonding function in the female ritual as in the male, but framed quite differently. 34 Freud, Civilization, p. 37. 35 Examples are Dorothy Dinnerstein, The Mermaid and the Minotaur (New York: Harper and Row, 1976), Jean Baker Miller, Toward a New Psychology of Women (Boston: Beacon Press, 1976), and Juliet Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism: Freud, Reich, Laing and Women (New York: Vintage Books, 1974). 36 Lisa Forrest, “Gonna Build Us a Land Where All Our Brothers Can Be Free: Structure and Meaning in the Camp Song,” unpublished paper for American Studies 140A, University of California, Davis, December 1977; Jane Willis, “Sister Scouts: Feminist Revolution in Scouting,” unpublished senior thesis in American Studies, University of California, Davis, May 1979. Atkinson did find sex and violence in the songs of a group of much younger (5-10) Blue Bird girls, but not in a campfire setting. See Robert Atkinson, “Songs Little Girls Sing: An Orderly Invitation to Violence,” Northwest Folklore, 2 (1967), 2-8. 55 This content downloaded from 126.96.36.199 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions JAY MECHLING The Magic The white, middle-class teenage boys are Boy Scouts during a relatively short portion of their everyday lives. Weekly troop meetings and a two- or three-week summer encampment are hardly the only setting for their teenage lore. Certainly there is very little “Boy Scout lore” that could be found elsewhere in the primary group relationships of these boys at school, on athletic teams, or at local hangouts in their California Central Valley town. The difference being a Boy Scout makes is that the troop is a folk group that in its official ideology legitimates ritual and explicitly symbolic behavior. The Boy Scout campfire, it turns out, is the richest of all these settings, a folk event that strikes a balance between adult definition and teenage subversion, between traditional formula and liminal spontaneity, between interpersonal aggression and powerful affirmation of brotherhood. The campfire event is a ritual dramatization of male solidarity and male world view.37 It helps provide the adolescent personality integration and identity formation that Bettelheim and Turner fret are endangered by modern culture. There is still magic in modernity. University of California Davis 37 See Frank W. Young, Initiation Ceremonies: A Cross-Cultural Study of Status Dramatization (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1965) and Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and AntiStructure (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1969). 56 This content downloaded from 188.8.131.52 on Sun, 12 Apr 2015 19:29:41 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions